Nonfiction November 2018 Random Questions Tag

I had no idea what I wanted to post today so I thought up some questions I decided I would like to answer. Here’s the result.

1. What book got you into reading nonfiction?

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For me, that would have to be The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin. I picked up the Cello Suites because promised a different Bach than the one you learn in Music History class. This book definitely delivered on that promise. It was a fascinating read about Bach, the musical genius, but also about a man who got into a duel with a bassoonist and had 20 children. It also combined Bach’s story with the story of Pablo Casals, the cellist who reintroduced the world to the wonderful cello suites of Bach’s.

2. What book are you most proud of finishing (or will be when it’s finished)?

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I will be super proud if I ever finish all the books I have started right now. But the book I’m most proud of finishing is the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. It was a very powerful and moving read, since you are hearing about the Civil War from someone who not only was in it, but was responsible for the troops he commanded. It was fascinating hearing about Grant’s strategy his own words as well hearing about famous historical events from someone who was a part of them.

3. What is your Favorite Nonfiction book?

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And… its another book about Bach. Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R Gaines is my favorite nonfiction book as well as one of my favorite books period. The authors passion about Bach and his music really made Bach seem like a real person, not just a someone you read about. This is another book that combines two biographies in this book that was Frederick the Great who met Bach once. But the occasion was definitely a memorable one.

4. Is there a nonfiction book you would like to reread?

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One would be Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines. But since I already mentioned that book I’ll say The Assassin’s Accomplice by Kate Clifford Larson instead. I read this book before I started the Ladies Guide to History and I would really like to write a post on the book. I found the subject, Mary Surratt an absolutely fascinating individual. An incredibly horrible person, but interesting nonetheless. The book relates how she was connected to the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln and debates how much she was really involved.

5. Is there a nonfiction book you chose to read solely because of the cover?

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Yep, I’m definitely guilty of this many times over. But in this case, I was in the Assateague Book Store and saw a book with gorgeous horses on it. Assateague + horses, yep had to buy it. Even if it’s about the wild mustangs in the west lol. But Wild Horse Country by David Philipps actually turned out to be a good book. It was fascinating learning about the mustangs that are a feature of the landscape in the west. A very different place than the east coast where I live.

6. What nonfiction subject do you read the most of?

I find myself gravitating to women’s biographies, due to the Ladies Guide to History (hint check out The Ladies Guide to History posts). Yep mostly biographies and history for me.

7. What would you like to read more of?

I would potentially love to learn about lots of things including: music, natural history, philosophy, religion, the list goes on. But I just bought a philosophy book so I’ll probably start there. 😉

8. What would you recommend to a nonfiction beginner and why?

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I recommend Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain it seems like on a daily basis. I loved this book its extremely readable and everyone is fascinated with understanding themselves.

9. What is your most recently purchased nonfiction book?

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That would be Desert Queen by Janet Wallach about Gertrude Bell a woman archeologist in the Victorian Era

Bonus Question: If you could meet the subject of a biography or memoir who would it be?

Yep, no guesses needed here that would be Bach for me lol.

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TV Show/Movie to Nonfiction Match-up

In honor of Nonfiction November, I thought I would steal an idea from last month and match a movie or TV show with a nonfiction book that would pair well.

Downton Abbey- To Marry An English Lord by Gail McColl and Carol MCD. Wallace

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This is probably the most obvious pairing on my list but its a good match. Downton Abby is an example of the phenomenon described in this book. When English Lords who found themselves in a situation where their estates weren’t as profitable as they once were a solution appeared in the American Heiress. These women and their families were looking for a way to ingratiate themselves into the established aristocracy and since they weren’t having much luck at home in America they went abroad to England where they found themselves in high demand. To Marry an English Lord is also a fantastic book to start nonfiction with since it is written in a very non-boring compelling way.

The Tudors – The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

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This show is certainly dramatic but has nothing on the actual events that surrounded this family. Many times I found the actual events less believable than in the tv show. Alison Weir’s The Life of Elizabeth I isn’t about Henry VIII which the tv show is about but it’s about his and Anne Boleyn’s remarkable daughter. Alison Weir really brings this capricious and independent ruler to life in her biography.

Father Brown (or really any mystery series) – Manhunt by James Swanson

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The story of Lincoln’s assassination is a fascinating one. This book unfolds the story in a novel like fashion. You won’t want to put this book down even if you already know the outcome of the story. This book might not be for the most serious of Lincoln scholars but it is a fantastic read for anybody looking for an account of the conspiracy. This is another good book for nonfiction beginners.

Spirit: Stallion of The Cimarron – Wild Horse Country by David Philipps

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I absolutely loved this movie when I was younger. I found the idea of the mustangs endlessly fascinating as well as a beautiful image of the United States. This idea must have stuck with me because when I saw this book in the Assateague Island (a place where there is also wild horses) visitors center I had to pick it up. I wanted to read about these beautiful animals especially since it seems like such a different world than the one I live in. This book discusses the wild mustang’s history and the problems facing them and facing the government who has been placed in charge of taking care of them. The author’s discussion on what these animals have come to mean to the people of the United States is a compelling one.

 

Nonfiction November TBR

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What is Nonfiction November and Why I decided to Participate

This month I’ve decided to participate in Nonfiction November hosted by Olive from abookolive and Gemma from Non Fic Books. Honestly, this is one of my favorite readathons of the year. This readathon is one of the reasons I grew to love nonfiction because it allows nonfiction a little of the spotlight. Because people are posting about it, people are able to see what nonfiction is out there and what books might interest them. It gets people talking about nonfiction in a positive way. Not as something boring but as something just as fun to read as fiction.

The Challenges

The hosts have decided on 4 challenges this year and they are…

  1. Past time/ pastimes
  2. Self/Shelf
  3. Wander/Wonder
  4. Micro/Macro

Check out Olive’s intro video here.

My Picks for the Challenges

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  1. For the first challenge I chose a book based on the first half of the challenge, past time, and I chose a book about history, specifically the history of England as I chose Foundation: The History of England from its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd.

 

D255EB98-4A54-4974-BD47-344CD07A5593.jpeg2. For the second challenge, I am basing my reading on the first word, self, as in self-education or enlightenment. I know very little about philosophy, so I chose a book that has been sitting on my shelf. (see what I did there lol) My pick is At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, to learn a little more about it.

 

2043e55b-823b-4451-9264-e6295d759d9c3. For the wonder/wander challenge I chose a book I’ve wandered away from and is a book I would really like to finish. It’s Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician by Christoph Wolff.

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4. And for the final challenge, I chose the book Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America by John J. Fialka because, while they are a small subset women they had a massive impact on the United States.


These are the four books I picked to for the challenges and particularly want to read but I am also hoping to get a few others read as well.

Are you also participation in Nonfiction November? Let me know what books your thinking about reading. I’m always on the lookout for book recommendations.

Book Review: Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper- Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell

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What it’s About:

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper- Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell was a book I had looked forward to reading since I had picked it up. I put off reading it till October since I believed it would be the perfect book for October/Halloween. In this book, Patricia Cornwell believes she has discovered the identity of Jack the Ripper and can prove it. Throughout the book, she relays the story of Jack the Ripper incorporating the evidence she found that supports her theory that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper.

My Thoughts:

I was really quite excited to read this book. I’ve always found myself interested in true crime (an interest I indulge with true crime podcasts) but Jack the Ripper has always been of particular interest. So I decided to pick this book up because not only would it tell Jack the Ripper’s story but the author believed that she had found out who he was. However, this book was a complete and utter disappointment.

Portrait of a Killer primary problem is in its biased approach. Instead of telling how the evidence pointed the author towards a definitive answer, it seems she chose Walter Sickert as her suspect and pick and chose the evidence to fit her theory ignoring evidence that pointed towards other suspects or may have questioned her theory. Her evidence was all circumstantial and seemed a bit weak including the DNA testing that was done. The author constantly refers back to Sickert’s artwork as evidence that he had details only the police would have known and that he hated women but she neglects to mention the impact the Jack the Ripper murders had on society which as it consumed the media Sickert would have been influenced by.

Another serious issue I had with this book was the digressions and rather pointless anecdotes the author incorporated. The biggest example is when she would correct the detective and coroners that investigated for not using techniques that had not been discovered yet. She also went on lengthy explanations on how the crimes would have been investigated in Virginia today (or in 2002 when the book was published) This was completely unnecessary unless her purpose was to demonstrate her knowledge on the subject. However, I think would have been interesting to see how the Jack the Ripper crimes influenced how these crimes would be investigated in the future. Did the investigations lead to better investigation techniques?

This book was sadly a disappointment to me. The only people I would recommend it to are people who interested in the evidence that supports the theory that Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper otherwise I would look elsewhere for a book on Jack the Ripper.

Ladies Guide to History: The Life of Elizabeth by Alison Weir

Who Was She:

Elizabeth I has to be one of the most famous rulers in history, and for good reason. She ruled without a man by her side and made decisions that still affect her country to this day.

Born to the famous, or rather the infamous, Henry VIII and his ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth’s childhood was filled with uncertainty. Her life and freedom depended on who was in favor at the time. While relatively ignored during Edward’s (Henry’s son) reign, her position during her half-sister Mary Tudor’s reign was more precarious. At one point she was actually imprisoned in the Tower of London. (Although she was not entirely blameless as she was party to a plot to overthrow Mary’s rule) But when Mary died it was Elizabeth who succeeded her on the throne.

The beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign was consumed with the question of who Elizabeth would marry. Her marriage would affect not only the question of succession, which would take on greater importance as she aged; but also which religion would dominate in England. Elizabeth’s marriage to a Catholic could have brought England back to its Catholic roots. Her marriage would also decide England’s allies. This situation required a champion player of the marriage game. She juggled many suitors keeping each of them interested, but still at arm’s length and in suspense. Her “attentions” kept these suitor’s countries from declaring war because they were interested in acquiring England’s resources. This changed as Elizabeth got older and was considered too old for marriage. Elizabeth never married and is now known as the Virgin Queen. But this juggling of suitors definitely consumed a lot of time when she was younger.

As Elizabeth’s reign went on the question of how they would keep Catholicism from gaining the upper hand took on greater importance. Over time, harsher laws were introduced to outlaw and limit the practice of Catholicism. Obviously, this did not go over well with the Catholic countries in Europe, especially Spain. The Vatican also urged rulers to lead England back to Catholicism. Caught up in the issue was Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots. Mary Stuart, who considered herself the rightful queen, gained much support outside of England, thanks to her Catholic background. But her attempts at gaining control of the throne failed, due in part to the loyalty of Elizabeth’s subjects both Catholic and not. All Mary’s scheming ended in tragedy with her execution.

My Thoughts on the Book:

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I found The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir a readable, fast-paced book that covered an incredibly interesting and powerful woman. Alison Weir does a great job in covering her subject.

The writing in this book was marvelous; fast paced and kept my attention from beginning to end. The author has very clearly done her research and incorporated primary sources that were fascinating, insightful and always relevant. She obviously has a passion for her subject, and it’s hard not to get caught up in her enthusiasm. I find a sign of a good book is when the author’s passion is contagious.

Her book stays focused on Elizabeth and this is definitely a strength of the book. It would have been very easy to get caught up in the lives of the men who surrounded Elizabeth. But as I wanted a book about her and not about the men in her life I was pleased to see the author stayed so focused on her subject.

As I reviewed another of Alison Weir’s books, I found it interesting how much I liked this one. I enjoyed Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life (link here), but I found it a much denser read. The reason could be because I was just starting to read more nonfiction at the time. Or Maybe it was because the author had to rely on the men in Eleanor’s life to tell her story. But if I had to choose which book I preferred it would be her book on Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth I was a fascinating woman; temperamental and undeniably royalty, but also human. She made many decisions that would impact both England and Europe. Many of her decisions still have a lasting impact to this day. And she did it all without a man at her side.

If you like Fringe then you Should Read…

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Recently, I’ve found myself rewatching the TV show Fringe and loving it. Albeit, a little quirky, it is a wonderfully engrossing show with a fantastic cast of characters. The relationship between the characters and the weird cases is what makes this show so good. If you like Fringe and want to read a book that has a similar vibe then check out these books!

1. Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

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If Dr. Walter Bishop could invent a way to get from one universe to another, then time travel is should be next on his list. This book explores the idea of what would happen if historians and scientists had the ability to time travel. Yep, you guessed it chaos, mayhem, and hilarity ensue. The characters are just as zany in Fringe, although, in Just One Damned Thing After Another, they drink more tea.


2. Flu by Gina Kolata

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In some ways, it’s fascinating learning about the terrifying possibilities the advances in science can create. But not all the terrifying possibilities are man-made. The flu is something in most cases is fairly innocuous, especially to people in the prime of their lives and health. But the 1918 flu turned all that on its head. It seemed to be particularly affecting to the strong and healthy, especially, those kept together in close quarters like those in the military. Flu provides a fascinating, but also an absolutely terrifying portrayal of how this disease rocked the US.


3. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

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In every episode of Fringe is a mystery to solve. If you enjoy this aspect of the show, then a great read is the original sleuth himself, Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock uses the clues around him to solve the case just like the Fringe team does, although in their case the mysteries tend to be a little weirder.


There you go, three books or short story collections you’ll like if you liked Fringe. Let me know what you think. Have you seen Fringe? What are your recommendations?

Book Review: Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez

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What it’s About:

Wolves are one of the most interesting and gorgeous animals that exist. Their story is a sad one, but also more recently its become one of hope as well as, one of redemption. Barry Lopez in Of Wolves and Men relays the story of this remarkable creature: its history and how it has captured our imagination more than almost any other animal.

Of Wolves and Men is split into two sections. One is the natural history portion and the other tells of humans interaction with wolves. The first portion describes the evolution of the wolf, its adaptations and its biology. It also describes the characteristic behavior of the wolf and of the wolf pack. The author describes why exactly the wolf does what it does. However, this book was published in 1978 so many sections have the possibility of being outdated.

The second portion describes the way that the wolf has been perceived by human society. The author has obviously done extensive research into how the wolf was and is perceived by various cultures from western culture to Native American and Inuit culture. The author also explores how this perception has colored the human’s interactions with the wolf. For example, many Native American tribes revered the wolf and therefore kills were done sparingly and with much respect. In comparison, the ranchers of the American west killed wolves excessively and senselessly with little thought to the consequences the means of killing might cause to the environment or even to the animals they claimed to be protecting.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed learning about wolves and in many ways this book provided a good introduction to the behavior of the wolf. This has definitely lead to an increased interest in picking up other books about wolves. The author did a good job in covering his subject and the reader can fell his passion for these animals. The author is good at explaining his thoughts and his writing is very accessible.

I was absolutely riveted by the natural history sections of this book. It was fascinating when the author was talking about wolves and wolf packs. Those sections were my favorites of the whole book. While the chapter on the hunting of wolves was hard to read, because of the senseless and gruesome way the wolves were killed; it was an important chapter to read. However, the folklore and the way humans of different culture perceive the wolf sections was where I started to lose interest. Obviously, human perception can influence our behavior towards an animal, and as our perception and assumptions about an animal change so can our behavior. I did find the initial explanations and descriptions of wolves and their place in different culture religions and folklore initially interesting, it got more than a little tedious as the chapters went on. I think that the author just spent too long on the subject, especially when he spent pages on werewolves, which was mostly human on human violence and had nothing really to do with wolves.

I also would have liked to see more about the ongoing changing perception western culture has toward wolves: why did our perceptions change and how that is affecting the wolves. Elaborating on that, I would have liked to have read more about the reintroduction of wolves in various ecosystems. I doubt much was known then about the longterm benefits the wolf would have on the ecosystem, but it still would have been interesting reading about how it came about and any short-term effects the wolves had negative or positive. I think this was a big point that the author missed. That human perception can change and recognize our mistakes which gives us hope for the future. It deserved more than the few sentences the author gave it, especially when he spent so much time on werewolves.

This book was a good introduction to wolves I would recommend it to anyone who is primarily interested in a historical accounting of human’s perceptions of wolves.